Project Task Management - Using Trello for Kanban Boards

Monday, October 13, 2014 7:14 AM

From time to time I write a little about productivity things. A while ago I wrote how using Evernote every day was a boost to my productivity: GTD - Get Organized and Be More Productive using The Secret Weapon and Evernote. This helped because I no longer lost or forgot things and because I was able to keep fewer things in my mind. Rather I have a daily morning ritual when I look at a specific tag !daily & run through the checklist before moving onto my 1-now items.

However after doing this for a few months I noticed there was one place where this really started to break down. That area was for projects. Some projects require a handful of tasks that have due dates, checklists, dependencies on other tasks, etc. I could qualify them by a priority using my Evernote tags, but it wasn’t nearly as easy to see all the tags for active projects or to assign due dates, share them with other people if you’re on a project with someone else, etc. A lot of it boiled down to being able to visualize where things are in different states.

I think it was around the time I was at a local conference I heard someone reference Kanban & Trello together and sometime that kicked off an epiphany.


After spending some time playing around with it, I started using Trello for Kanban boards to keep projects straight. This includes my home “honey-do” list as well as personal projects and client projects. I still use Evernote as my personal database and follow my version of a modified The Secret Weapon process where I’ll have a single note in my 1-now or 2-next tag that highlights a specific project, but that points over to a project board in Tello. I can more easily monitor and interact with project tasks in Trello and move them through their lifecycle following the Kanban approach. And because both tools are somewhat web-based (Trello is all web, and while Evernote is web+native client, you can create hyperlinks to Evernote notes), I can cross reference things very easily.

Using Trello for Kanban Boards

First some level-setting.

Trello is a free online resource that lets you create boards that contain lists which contain cards. These boards can be shared with other Trello users. Cards have titles, descriptions, a message log for activities, checklists, due dates, labels, links, attachments and be assigned to other Trello users.

A Kanban board is a process like thing that helps you manage tasks… it was quite popular in Toyota. Basically you create lists horizontally from left-to-right across the board. Tasks start in the left-most list and as they are worked on, completed and archived they move across the board into different lists from left-to-right. Here’s a picture of my “honey-do” list that my wife & I share (yes, when she saw this she loved it and she adopted this process as well):

Trello Kanban Board

This is a simplistic list, but you should sort of get the picture. Here’s one that’s a bit more complex that I use for my multi-tenant deployment of OrchardCMS that hosts this blog, my podcast Microsoft Cloud Show and startup Kerrb.

Trello Kanban Board

Some projects have more lists than others. I have a single Trello board that acts as my template that contains all the lists I could use. The default lists in my boards are as follows:

  • Blocked
  • Backlog
  • In Process
  • In Test
  • In Review
  • Done Recently
  • Done
  • Archived

Depending on the project, I might remove some of these lists (for instance, my honey-do board doesn’t need all these). All tasks start in the backlog list and make their way across. I use the Done Recently list when I’m working on a project with someone so we can what each other have recently finished… after some time we’ll move it off into the Done list. Usually I remove the Archived list and just archive the cards away out of the Done list periodically. Here’s what a typical card might look like in these lists:

Trello Kanban Board

For this one, I’m setting up my 9yr old son with email, but we want to make sure we monitor everything that he sends and receives (our own little NSA). Anyway, it shows how my wife added the tag to my backlog and assigned it to me. I then created a checklist of things I needed to do and assigned it a label of inside because we have other labels for outside tasks and things that are urgent. Also notice those little grayed out power buttons next to the checklist items as well as the red one at the top. I use the service Toggl for logging time. These power buttons are added by the Toggle button Chrome extension. When a project requires I track my time, I can click these timer jobs to automatically create a new time entry in toggle that starts the timer and sets the text of the time entry to the name of the card and checklist item. Later I can assign it to a project in Toggl.

One very slick aspect to this is the fact that you can share tasks & boards with other people. I share a board with someone who I’m working on a project with. Without the two of us emailing each other status reports all the time, we just mark what’s done or what we’re working on. As we’re working on it we put stuff in the activity list on the card. It’s a great log and works very well. And since we can use links, we usually add links to things like GitHub issues or posts to StackOverflow when we get stuck on something.


Incorporating Trello as my host for Kanban boards has been a huge boost to my productivity. Like anything in the productivity space, your mileage may vary so consider it, dismiss it or adopt & modify it for your use. It works great for me and that’s all that really matters!

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